Hardy Nickerson Belongs in the Pro Football Hall of Fame

When most sportswriters chronicle a franchise’s turning point its usually attributed to the hiring of a coach or a number one draft pick QB who goes on to a Hall of Fame career. One where the culture of an organization completely shifts as the team has a pivotal player & focal point to build around. Enter Hardy Nickerson.

Most try to equate the turnaround with the drafting of Warren Sapp and Derrick Brooks when the direction was set in motion several years before these two Hall of Famers were drafted in ’95.

Let’s take you back to the early 1990’s Tampa was a desolate outpost no one wanted to play for. It was a rudderless franchise that had just finished 1992 having set an NFL record with their 10th straight double digit loss season.

The culture was so demoralized just 8 years before 1st round draft pick Bo Jackson refused to play for Tampa. He elected baseball instead. USFL refugee Steve Young was so disheartened with the situation he only played 2 seasons. After a 3-16 record as the starter in ’85 and ’86, Young asked owner Hugh Culverhouse to allow him to leave. His trade paved the way for a Hall of Fame career out in San Francisco and the chance to draft ’86 Heisman winner Vinny Testaverde.

Testaverde toiled in Tampa for six seasons, never winning more than 6 starts and exited in the first season of free agency for a backup assignment in Cleveland. Yet before the door shut Hardy Nickerson was the first big free agent to sign on and step through.

Nickerson became the centerpiece of Defensive Coordinator Floyd Peters’ 4-3 at Middle Linebacker and a terror was set loose. He became a sideline to sideline tracker and hit everything in sight. In ’93 he led the NFL in tackles with a team record 214 while making his 1st Pro Bowl and voted 1st team All Pro. It was only the 4th time a Tampa Bay defender was voted to the Pro Bowl in Hawai’i and the 2nd all pro selection since the team’s inception.

His play was so dominant he broke the team season tackle record in a week 15 win over Chicago. There were still 3 games to go in 1993! So his 1st season ended with 214 tackles, recorded a sack, forced a fumble, recovered a fumble and had an interception.

Or think of it like this… he recorded 96 more tackles than his Hall of Fame teammate Derrick Brooks (118) recorded in ’02 when he was NFL Defensive Player of the Year. Chew on that for a second…

He brought an intensity that was infectious and the Bucs began to stand and fight with their foes instead of conceding defeat. In 1993 Nickerson and the Bucs weren’t highly ranked but held 4 teams to 10 points or less. A Taylor Blitz defensive staple. To match this total,  not including season finales where teams and the Bucs had packed it in… you have to go back 6 years to 1988 to tally 4 teams held to 10 or fewer covering a year time period.

Earlier in his career he shared the inside linebacking duties in the Steelers 3-4. Yet now he became the successor to Mike Singletary’s Middle Linebacker throne in the old NFC Central. Over the next 7 years Nickerson averaged 119 tackles 2 forced fumbles every year as he led his young teammates in to battle as they chased the Green Bay Packers in the NFC North who had become league champion.

From that point on the organization geared their personnel decisions on teaming Nickerson with blue chip defensive talent. Gone were the high profile offensive players that turned the “Yucs” into the laughing stock of the NFL. Replaced by one forged of grit and toughness that thrived on the visceral edge of football. This culiminated with the 96 draft and twin #1 selections Derrick Brooks & Warren Sapp along with promoting SS John Lynch up from special teams.

The season opener in ’97 saw the seminole moment Nickerson’s defensive mates had grown to match his intensity and tenacity. Perennial power San Francisco came to Tampa and were hammered 13-6 as Steve Young was sacked and knocked from the game by Sapp. He returned a few quarters later where Nickerson sacked him again along with his 6 tackles on the game. Brooks had 10 tackles and Sapp finished with 2 1/2 sacks.

With playmakers all over the field in Tony Dungy’s new “Tampa 2” Nickerson’s stats took a hit. Yet in ’97 he recorded his 2nd highest career total with 147 tackles, the 1 sack and 2 forced fumbles. Hardy made 2 different All Pro teams while being named to the 1st unit and made the 3rd of his 5 Pro Bowl appearances.

However had he made the ’95 Pro Bowl he would have finished on the last 5 straight Pro Bowl teams to finish the 90’s with 6 overall.  Yes Ken Norton and Jesse Tuggle were great that year but…

  • Nickerson – 143 combined tackles, 1 1/2 sacks 3 forced fumbles 3 fumble recoveries
  • Ken Norton – 96 combined tackles, 1 sack, 1 ff, 3ints for 2 TDs (same game)
  • Jessie Tuggle – 152 combined tackles, 1sack, 1ff, 3ints

Kenny, Kenny, Kenny Norton…. sigh..  yet this is what the players voted and he was on a #1 defense in San Fran that year. This catapulted Norton’s profile that year and Nickerson was robbed.. I meant snubbed. Yet I digress

The ’97 Bucs finished 3rd in defense and made the playoffs for the first time in 15 years where they lost to the Packers. Ushering in the era where the Bucs finished in the top 3 in both 98 and 99.

Unfortunately ’99 was the last season for Nickerson with the Bucs. Although he was 34 he finished with 110 combined tackles, 1/2 sack, 3 forced fumbles and 2 interceptions. He made his 5th and final Pro Bowl. His final game in Tampa was the NFC Championship where the Bucs held The Greatest Show on Turf to 11 points and held a 6-5 lead in the 4th quarter.’

Nickerson left Tampa after that stellar defensive performance and played for both Jacksonville and Green Bay before retiring.

Yet the men he helped usher in defensive excellence with went on to win Super Bowl XXXVII a few years later. Once the final minutes counted down the first two members of the Tampa Bay family I thought of were former head coach Sam Wyche and Nickerson. It was the late Wyche who signed Nickerson and set him loose in his defense.

For his career Nickerson made All Pro 4 times, the Pro Bowl 5 times and was a member of The All Decade Team of the 1990’s. Do you realize he is the only true Middle Linebacker on the all decade team?

Where Heisman Trophy winners Vinny Testaverde, Bo Jackson, and Hall of Famer Steve Young failed to change the culture of the organization, Nickerson succeeded. The relative wealth and fortune of the franchise changed from the moment he took the field.

Name a better and more consistent Middle Linebacker from the NFC side of the ledger from the 1990’s?? I’ll wait here

His signing at the advent of the 1st season of true free agency (1993) you have to think of his signing as important as Reggie White in Green Bay. It resurrected a franchise and led to Super Bowl triumph ultimately.

To see his number isn’t retired nor in the Buccaneer Ring of Honor is a complete travesty. The relative wealth and prestige took off the moment Nickerson signed on and they should have a statue out front. Well one place this historian believes he should be is in Canton.

For induction into the Pro Football Hall of Fame I present to you Hardy Nickerson.

Thanks for reading and please share the article.

The Chancellor’s past articles advocating for players to be inCanton prio induction:

 

With Kevin Greene after the Induction ceremony.

Kevin Greene

 

 

Terrell Davis

 

“Hey big guy!” The laughs at the Hall of Fame party were priceless.

Jerry Kramer

Randy Moss

Andre Reed

Edgerrin James

Ken Stabler

Cris Carter

Robert Brazile

 

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Met Robert Brazile after the Gold Jacket Dinner. Great time.

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Eli Manning Belongs In The Pro Football Hall of Fame

With Eli Manning calling it a career we have been inundated with sportswriters and t.v. pundits debating his Hall of Fame candidacy. Over the last 15 years we have seen the pendulum swing where weak pundits want to equate everything to just a series of stats. For those of us who know this game and it’s vast history, players also make the Pro Football Hall of Fame based on performing heroic feats.

Manning’s detractors will point to his 117-117 record and try to reduce his influence to just his Super Bowl XLII upset of the undefeated New England Patriots. “Oh he only won because of the great Giants pass rush.” is a scoff we hear when Eli and this game is brought up.

Yet before we get started let The Chancellor share with you several of his feats:

  • 1 of 5 two time Super Bowl MVPs XLII & XLVI (3 of 4 are in the PFHOF/ Brady awaits)
  • 1 of 3 QBs to win 2 conference championships on road (Elway in PFHOF/Brady awaits)
  • 1 of 2 QBs to lead game winning Super Bowl drives twice (Brady other with 4)
  • Tied with Tom Brady with 4 postseason wins over teams with 13 regular season wins.
  • Only QB in history with 2 postseason wins over teams with 15 regular season wins (07 Pats 16-0 & ’11 Packers 15-1)
  • 2nd in road /neutral site playoff wins in NFL history with 7 (Brady 1st with 9)
  • Won the Super Bowl in 2011 with the worst regular season record ever at 9-7. (broke Joe Montana’s ’88 team who went 10-6/ Montana in PFHOF)

When every other QB Manning has performed these feats next to are in the Pro Football Hall of Fame…?? Ok not yet.

Now to crush a few misnomers about Eli… Did you know when Manning led the Giants XLVI championship he won it with the lowest rated defense in Super Bowl history ranked 27th? Take a guess who passed for the most yardage in a regular season (4,933 yards) to win the Super Bowl? You guessed it Eli Manning in XLVI.

Did you notice Peyton Manning didn’t come up once in any of these feats? Most would assume his name would come up and not Eli by the way the media shaped their narratives.

Stop and think of the signature games Eli has in his back pocket. Everyone remembers the run to the Super Bowl in 2007 especially the Dallas Cowboys. Remember that group?? An emerging Tony Romo and Terrell Owens sparkled as they ran to an NFC best 13-3 record and the championship of the Eastern Division. Manning had a mistake free game where he was 12 of 18 for 163 yards 2TDs 0ints to Tony Romo’s 18 of 36 201 yards 1 TD and a game clinching interception to RW McQuarters in the endzone.

Then in a frigid Lambeau Field took down the 13-3 Green Bay in Brett Favre’s last game as a Packer. In this contest Eli was mistake free again going 21 of 40 257 yards no scores but even bigger… no intercptions. Where Favre looked cold all night throwing an overtime interception to seal Green Bay’s fate. He completed 19 of 35 236 yards, tossing 2 scores but 2 large intercpetions halted a chance at the Super Bowl to end his career.

Don’t forget he returned to win a 2nd in Lambeau when he gunned down 2011 league MVP Aaron Rodgers 37-20 in the 2011 NFC Divisional. Manning came out gunning hitting on 2 TDs including a demoralizing Hail Mary at the end of the half to put the Giants up 20-10. He finished this game 21 of 33 330 yards 3TDs and only 1 int. NFL MVP Rodgers was out of sorts from the outset. His ledger was less impressive 26 of 46 264 yards 2 TDs and an interception.  Rodgers has been snakebit in the playoffs ever since.

Keep in mind he is the only QB in history with 2 playoff wins on the road at Lambeau Field and the only one to beat both Aaron Rodgers and Brett Favre in postseason play.

We have to remember he was a 2 time Super Bowl winning quarterback although the sporting press doesn’t cover him like one. He isn’t coddled like his brother when it comes to his short comings. Think about it for a second…. Had Eli Manning thrown a 4th quarter interception to seal his team’s fate in a Super Bowl you would never have heard the end of it. Peyton did that in Super Bowl XLIV to New Orleans’ Tracy Porter.

We hardly hear of his triumph in Super Bowl XLII, he’s treated like a supporting actor to the upset itself or even David Tyree’s helmet catch. Neither of which could have taken place without Eli’s heroics. If you can remember Eli had to break free of two linemen and scrambled before throwing that famous pass to Tyree.

One of the best throws in Super Bowl history. Who knew he would upstage it with the best throw ever in XLVI?? With just 3:46 remaining and down 17-15 and at his 12 yard line, Manning facing a Cover 2 had Mario Manningham break outside CB Sterling Moore when…

Quite simply it’s a pass that shouldn’t have been thrown when it comes to football schematics. Not against Cover 2 yet if the pass was 1 yard shorter it would have been knocked away by Moore. If the pass was to the outside 1 yard Mario Manningham doesn’t get his feet in. If the pass was 1 yard over in the field of play FS Chung would have intercepted or knocked the ball down. Yet in the money time with his team losing Eli delivered this 38 yard “Rembrandt” which was the centerpiece to a game winning drive and a 21-17 win.

It was Eli’s 6th 4th quarter comeback in 2011 alone…and by the way since he did it the week before in the NFC Championship against the 49ers, Eli is the only QB in history with back to back 4th quarter comebacks to win a conference championship and Super Bowl in the same season. Yet I digress… He came off the canvas after being hit 11 times and sacked on 6 occasions to complete 32 of 58 for 316 yards 2TDs and again no picks.

 

It was Eli who spotted Manningham break a cardinal rule in Cover 2, reroute the receiver to the inside and funnel him up to the safety. When he didn’t Manning took two steps toward the receiver to change the trajectory and let fly. Great great throw.

Eli finished with an 8-4 record in the playoffs and get this he was 7-2 away from home in the playoffs including the Super Bowl, for his career. Contrast that against Peyton’s 3-6 record away from home in the playoffs, which includes a 41-0 devastating loss to the New York Jets. Understand Eli doesn’t have a lopsided postseason loss to that degree on his resume’.

No one even comes close to his road post season record. He’s quiet and tremendously unassuming off the field. Yet it’s at this moment your mind has to change when it comes to Hall of Fame worthiness. You’d think that the coddling the media gave his brother would have rubbed off on him. That it hasn’t gave him a thicker skin and stronger resolve. One exhibited time after time in 2 tremendous playoff runs.

He’s had other moments like when he came within 45 yards of the all time NFL record of 554 yards passing in 2012. Remember that? Yes he threw for an NFL record 245 yards 25 points in the 4th quarter to beat the Bucs 41-34 in week 2. Manning threw for 510 yards in another come from behind win.

For his career he completed 4,895 of 8,119 for 57,023 yards 366 TDs and 244 interceptions. His performance was that of a great “B” student yet when the money was on the line he delivered “A+” material.

With his total of 27 4th quarter come from behind wins Eli has more than Hall of Famers Jim Kelly, Joe Montana, Warren Moon, & Dan Fouts. Only one short of Brett Favre Yet you don’t think he belongs??

Then many of you want to call Tom Brady the greatest quarterback ever for winning 6 Super Bowls…well .. What do you call Eli who holds a winning record against him 3-2, twice beating Brady in Super Bowls?? For good measure is the only starting QB to beat him twice in the same season in 2011. What do you call Eli?? Not elite Tiki Barber… you call him a Hall of Famer!

For induction into the Pro Football Hall of Fame I present Eli Manning!

The Chancellor’s other pieces written advocating players Hall of Fame candidacy:

Kevin Greene (written Mar 2, 2011 / enshrined 2016)

Robert Brazile (written Mar 2, 2011/ enshrined 2018)

Jerry Kramer (written July 26, 2011 / enshrined 2018)

Ken Stabler (written July 12, 2015 / enshrined 2016)

Terrell Davis (written July 5, 2011 / enshrined 2017)

Randy Moss (written Aug 2, 2011/ enshrined 2018)

Cris Carter (written Dec 2, 2011/ enshrined 2013)

Andre Reed (written Aug 11, 2013 / enshrined 2014)

Edgerrin James (written Jan 19, 2013/ induction year 2020)

 

Ken Stabler Belongs in the Pro Football Hall of Fame – HOF Edition

Originally Published 12, July 2015 w/Prologue 10, May 2019

When it comes to who should be in the Pro Football Hall of Fame, most inductees are in for the stellar performance over their careers entirety. Others are in based upon producing some of the greatest moments in football history. A third definition in the eyes of the The Chancellor is “Can we talk about the era in which a player performed without his name coming up?”  Ken Stabler of the Oakland Raiders fits the bill in all 3 of these categories.

KennyStablerHere in Taylor Blitz Times we have chronicled the long time bias against former Raiders when it comes to enshrinement. Head Coach John Madden’s field general has yet to be elected to Canton. Stabler was a throwback QB who called his own plays and routinely led the Raiders into the playoffs during the 1970’s. Along with Fan Tarkenton, Roger Staubach, and Terry Bradshaw, these four ruled the 1970’s and arguably Stabler had the most legendary moments.

On December 23,1972 in the AFC Divisional Playoff in Pittsburgh, Stabler, whom Madden had been grooming since 1968, was the wild card needed to change the tide of a game down 6-0. Desperate for some offense, John Madden inserted a young, mobile Kenny “The Snake” Stabler in for an anemic Daryle Lamonica which produced immediate results.

On a last second desperation drive, the Raiders came scrambling downfield with a young quarterback in his first significant action in an NFL playoff game. At the Steelers 30 with less than 1:30 to go, Stabler avoided the Steel Curtain, took off and scored on a 30 yard TD run to give the Raiders their first lead of the game 7-6. “The Snake” had done it!! A hero was born!! There was bedlam on the Oakland sideline and with 1:13 to go began to make reservations for they would host the AFC Championship Game against the undefeated Miami Dolphins.

However this was overshadowed by The Immaculate Reception that happened 4 plays later. Then later that day Roger Staubach had his 1st famous comeback in a 30-28 win in San Francisco. Yet Oakland knew they had their quarterback of the future and he could perform in pressure situations. Like a young George Blanda, who had a magical run during 1970, the Raiders could depend upon Stabler’s heroics for years to come.

Over the next 5 seasons as the starter, Stabler guided the Raiders to the AFC Championship Game. An NFL record. He was a daring quarterback who was a true river boat gambler. This led to some interceptions but even more daring touchdowns. He was old school yet enjoyed wine, women, and song out in the nightlife. He still came in and put in his work and teammates respected him and would follow him anywhere.

In 1973 Stabler completed an unheard of 62.7% of his passes, for 1,997 yards 14 TDs and 10 interceptions. The Raiders won the AFC West and got revenge on the Pittsburgh Steelers with a 33-14 win in the playoffs. The Miami Dolphins, on their way to back to back championships, beat them in the ’73 AFC Championship 27-10. Take a wild guess who was there to get revenge in the 1974 AFC Divisional Playoff?

 

Stabler ended the Dolphin dynasty with the touchdown to Clarence Davis in what became known as The Sea of Hands. One of the most famous games in NFL history.

Although the Raiders lost the AFC Championship the next two years to the rival Steelers, they came back in’76 with a vengeance. They recorded a 13-1 record and sought revenge on those Steelers yet needed another “Snake” come from behind miacle win in the AFC divisional round to get there.

 

1977-01-17 CoverThe Raiders would go on to win the AFC Championship 24-7 over Pittsburgh, then Super Bowl XI over Minnesota 32-14. He had guided the Raiders to that elusive championship in an era when it seemed they would be destined to always be the bridesmaid. He had several great performances left but becoming a champion was the ultimate.

In defending that championship in 1977, Stabler guided Oakland to a record 5th straight AFC Title game in Denver. They fell short 20-17 in getting to Super Bowl XII. How much did that have to do with the fatigue from the 6 quarter epic, Ghost To the Post 37-31 victory over the Baltimore Colts 1 week before??

 

Stabler’s Raider career was filled with great highlights and one important Super Bowl championship. In 1976 he had one of the greatest season a QB could have. He went 194 of 291 for 2,737 yards 27 TDs and 17 ints and an astonishing completion rate of 67.7% and a 103.4 passer rating. Remember this is a guy who extolled the Raiders philosophy of pressure football while throwing the ball deep.

However Stabler’s career wasn’t a series of statistics. He was one of the NFL’s most visible and recognizable personalities. He did make four Pro Bowls, was voted NFL MVP in 1974, was All Pro twice, and led the league in touchdown passes on 2 occasions. Furthermore,”The Snake” also was voted to the 1970’s NFL All Decade Team and finished with 194 TDs and 222 interceptions. A trade to the Houston Oilers after the 1979 season ended his stint  in Oakland. However he did go out with a bang:

 

Before his retirement in 1984, he did play for the late Bum Phillips twice in Houston and with the New Orleans Saints. Yet it was the magic he deftly showed out in Oakland that should have him in Canton. You can’t even pick out the best quarterback/receiver combo from the 1970s. Was it Stabler to Cliff Branch who should be in the Hall of Fame?? Would it be Stabler to TE Dave Casper who is in “the hall”?? No…it has to be the obvious in Stabler to Hall of Famer Fred Biletnikoff…right?? If all of his receivers are in and being considered for the Pro Football Hall of Fame what does that make of the quarterback who helped get them there??

Unfortunately with his passing on Wednesday, we will have to lobby for Stabler to be enshrined posthumously.

For the Pro Football Hall of Fame, I present Kenny “The Snake” Stabler

RIP Ken Stabler (December 25, 1945 – July 8, 2015)

Epilogue: 9, May 2019 When going through the pics and remembering the 2016 enshrinement weekend at the Hall, it was an emotional weekend. During the Gold Jacket Ceremony, one of the “Grandsnakes” came on the stage to receive Stabler’s Hall of Fame crest. Not only did we give a standing ovation, there wasn’t a dry eye in the house. Not in the section I was in.

halloffamecrest.stablerIt was impossible to not think how great Kenny would have enjoyed that weekend. He would have shared it with his family and would have definitely included his grandsons to which he was most proud of in everything he did.

Having been to two of the last three ceremonies it’s the stories, the celebrating of a player and a family’s legacy to this great game, and the camaraderie reveling in the accomplishment. The Raider family was out in force and came far and wide to celebrate his enshrinement. Yet the elephant in the room is we all felt cheated out of hearing from the man himself.

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I wore a Jerry Kramer jersey into “The Hall” then removed it to reveal a Stabler shirt I picked up after the Gold Jacket ceremony.

For the record I do wish the PFHoF presented Stabler’s family with a ring and gold jacket.

It was bittersweet however its better that Ken Stabler’s Hall of Fame legacy is in Canton where it belongs and no longer being debated.

Thanks for reading and please share the article.

Robert Brazile Should Be in The Hall of Fame – HOF Edition

Dr. DoomOriginally Published 2, March 2011 w/ Postscript 21, August 2018 

There are many former NFL players swept into the dustbin of history who aren’t given their due. There are those that are victims of where they play as much as who they lost to that defined how they are remembered historically by the sporting press.

Enter Robert Brazille.  During the late 1970s the Houston Oilers were overshadowed by the perennial champion Pittsburgh Steelers and the players that comprised those teams that bested them in the ’78 and ’79 AFC Championship games.

Whereas the Pittsburgh Steelers had one of the greatest strong side outside linebackers in Jack Ham in a 4-3 defense, the Houston Oilers fielded the epitome of the weakside linebacker in Robert Brazile for the 3-4 defense.  Yet we must go back to NFL rule changes earlier in the decade that necessitated changes that had repercussions for years to come.

The 1974 NFL season saw several rule changes, kickoffs were moved back to the 35 yard line, goalposts were moved to the back of the end zone and the hash marks were narrowed on the field.  This brought the necessity for more speed to cover additional field at outside linebacker, where a new type of player was needed.  Enter the thought process of deciding if it was best to go after the passer or cover the flank from the outside linebacker position.

Several teams adopted the “53 defense” that the perennial champion  Miami Dolphins instituted part time which saw DT Bill Heinz replaced with LB Bob Matheson, who wore #53, and could rush the passer as well as drop back into coverage. This change from 3 linebackers to 4 linebackers clogged the underneath passing routes.  Many teams that were desperate for a winner went for this new tactical defensive adaptation of the old’50’s  “Oklahoma” Bud Wilkinson defense full time.  The 3-4 was just the old “Wilkinson 5-2” which had the two ends take their hand off the ground and become trackers.

Robert Brazile was the first truly great outside linebacker that was based out of the 3-4 alignment and was the start of a new breed of linebacker.  He was the 1975 NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year and broke the mold for what was expected from the outside linebacker position. He took home 5 defensive and rookie of the year honors. Before him, the Jack Ham 6’1 215 lbs outside LB, was the prototypical build, Brazile was the breaking of that mold weighing in at 6 ft 3 inches and 235 lbs. More like Bobby Bell and David Robinson from the 1960s.

He was strong enough to take on offensive tackles and tight ends at the point of attack, speed to chase down ball carriers from behind and power to rush the passer.  Brazile was the only player to make All-Pro from 1976-1980 at any position and was the player that the late George Young envisioned when he drafted North Carolina’s Lawrence Taylor.

This talent, who was a collegiate teammate of Walter Payton, played at a time where sacks weren’t recorded as a statistic. It wasn’t until 1982 when sacks became official stats. Had this happened earlier, Brazile could have gained more acclaim as the best outside linebacker of his era.  In fact do you realize Robert Brazile is a member of the all decade team of the 1970s as voted by the Pro Football Hall of Fame?? In fact he’s on their 2nd all decade team right next to Jack Lambert who is inducted, and remains the only linebacker within that group, not elected to the Pro Football Hall of Fame. An injustice that needs to be corrected.

Again Robert Brazile was the prototype to the heavier more athletic linebacker, in a 3-4 defense, bred to cover a wider field circa 1974 to the present, that played with an intensity that Lawrence Taylor,  Andre Tippett, Hugh Green, Rickey Jackson, and E.J. Junior carried into 1980’s stardom.  Yet that notoriety started because Lawrence Taylor landed in New York and the sporting press lauded him as the greatest defensive player ever.  Rightfully so… If that’s the case, what do you call or gauge the 7 time Pro Bowl, member of the All Decade team of the 70’s, 5 consecutive year All Pro linebacker selection he replaced and was patterned after??

Brazile,Robert4The biggest difference is the Oilers didn’t realize what they had and should have sent him crashing off the corner more. He should have been blitzing 40 – 50% of the time. Even though statistics on sacks weren’t kept until 1982, he finished that year with 6.5 sacks when the strike shortened the year to 9 games. It was the last of his 7 straight trips to Hawaii.

Robert “Dr. Doom” Brazile, an all time great that should not be swept into the dustbin of history because he played in Houston and not Dallas.  The fact that the sporting press has failed to stand up for a great player who didn’t play for a great team or self promoted gives way to why we see those players who do.

Understand this, the next time you see Clay Matthews Jr., James Harrison, LaMarr Woodley blitz off the corner from a 3-4 linebacker spot, you’re watching what started with Robert “Dr. Doom” Brazile in 1975 and not Lawrence Taylor and 1981.  For the Hall of Fame, I present Robert Brazile… an all time classic.

Postscript August 21, 2018: Just a few weeks removed from a glorious trip to Canton. He was presented by his father and Brazile let us know how he had lost the love of football and now the game was showing him it loved him back.

my.spot.brazile.inductionIt was great to hear Lawrence Taylor share the phrase “He was LT before LT” …now where had we heard that before?? Even Black College Football Hall of Fame LB Thomas Henderson was in the house for Brazile’s induction and The Chancellor got to catch up to him.

brazile.chancellorIts an honor for me that Brazile was the very 1st player written about in this series of all players who belonged in Canton who had yet to make it. Keep in mind when Brazile went into The Gridiron Greats Hall of Fame in 2016 the words of this article before this postscript was read to introduce him on that June night. It was great to catch up to him late in the evening after The Gold Jacket Dinner at the hotel and again at the airport as we were all leaving Canton.

brazile.lockerCongratulations on your induction and I told you I’d be there. You’re forever in the Pro Football Hall of Fame now.

brazile.partyThanks for reading and please share the article.

Jerry Kramer, Alicia, The Chancellor & A Hall of Fame Trip

As we near the 2018 Hall of Fame Induction Ceremony it’s impossible not to look back at how we got here. It seems surreal as so many fans didn’t think we would see the day when Jerry Kramer would get that call to the hall. That knock on the door.

kramersWhere our odyssey began was the birth of all this love of football which started in the summer heat in Denver Colorado 1977. Outside throwing a football around when I came in to cool off and an “NFL Presents” had a special on “The Ice Bowl.” I can remember being glued to the tv as the Packers and Cowboys played in what looked like ungodly weather. Of course with John Facenda’s narrative he made the names of Vince Lombardi, Bart Starr, Willie Davis, Tom Landry and Jerry Kramer become etched in my mind.

Several weeks later school had started and my 2nd grade teacher Mrs. Carmen and I were in the library and she gave me Jerry Kramer’s Instant Replay to read. After that I brought home at least 3 books on football a week or was reading the old NFL Punt, Pass, & Kick books at the Boys Club. Of course when I wasn’t outside playing football but the pilot light was on and I wanted to read more first on Kramer’s Packers and beyond.

Fast forward many decades and into the social media age and I looked up a couple of random old school football players and connected. Jerry was one of them. Of course to say hello and was a fan of his and make a mild acquaintance. Then in early 2010 things changed… Bored with several business writing courses I decided to write a few short stories based on championship teams to get people talking about football on Facebook. I grabbed a series of Super Bowl and conference championship rings and wrote 15 abstract stories based on what I knew of those teams and could share beyond a box score.

One of which was “The Ghost of Vince Lombardi” and the strange circumstances that befell every 2 time champion trying to win 3 in a row. Yet it was Jerry and several former players responding to the story of the Baltimore Colts not receiving a ring for losing Super Bowl III is when the “Aha” moment came. Like I said I was just trying to get a few football fanatics to talk old teams and in one afternoon more than 500 email notifications while I was out with Edie that Friday night. I wound up with thousands of notifications over the weekend. That validation is what started me writing and accumulating articles here.

When thinking of content to write about I thought of players who hadn’t made the Pro Football Hall of Fame who should be. If I were in that room with the writers, what would I say to make my point and  deflect counterpoints before they could take shape? On July 26th, 2011 I penned Jerry Kramer Belongs in The Hall of Fame which was read and widely shared. Alicia and I had become friends then and our conversations began.

You wouldn’t believe how many posted and emailed saying they thought Jerry was in already. No… he isn’t. One of the first conversations was with the late Dave Edwards who played across from Jerry’s Packers in The Ice Bowl for the Cowboys. Then Alicia embarked on her journey to raise awareness that her father Jerry, an all time great, had yet to have that “knock on the door”.  Alicia asked if I would help her with the page and without hesitation let her know that I would. I was known for uploading a lot of football footage from all I had recorded from 1982 to the present. So up went “The Ice Bowl” several America’s Game’s for the Lombardi Packers and she grew it from there.

All the while asking people to write Joe Horrigan and the Pro Football Hall of Fame on behalf of her father being selected. She grew that group incredibly quick and a sea of Packer fans flocked to the group in support and the letter writing took off in earnest. Posts with autographs Jerry had given fans over the years, publications shared and everything Jerry to keep the movement going and raise awareness.

There were some disappointing days when Jerry’s name didn’t make it past the semifinal round. Then when it looked like February 2016 as a finalist… this would be it! No knock on the door. However Alicia was the first to tell me Kevin Greene did get in from the hotel in San Francisco and 6 months later I was preparing to go as Kevin and Tara’s guest when I said “Alicia, you have to send me something to wear as a political statement” to which she agreed.

Fully expecting a JK for the Hall of Fame t-shirt, I opened the package to an autographed jersey. I told her I’m wearing it into “The Hall”. Now keep in mind Brett Favre was being inducted also and Packer jerseys were there 10-1. As I toured the autograph area and bunched in with fans trying to catch a glimpse at HOF members going in and out of what I believed was the Nitschke Luncheon. “Jerry should be in the hall!” “Open your doors for #64!” was shouted at least 100 times by Packer fans in the few hours before entering The Hall.

Even met my friend Ryan VanAcker entering the Hall of Fame because of my wearing Kramer’s jersey. Now 2 years later we’re attending Jerry’s enshrinement together from Arizona.

Now we’re just 48 hours away as a 7 year march for TBT and a 46 year march for Jerry concludes Saturday evening. To watch Alicia and Daniel keep up the march from the Facebook page over the years has been special. Especially Alicia as I watched the movement grow from an idea to former players rallying and writing letters, even former Hall of Famers lending their names. Proud of all the work she put in and tirelessly worked toward. I am happy to have been a part of it as a weekend that at times felt would never arrive, is actually upon us.

There will definitely be a few glasses of wine to celebrate Jerry’s enshrinement. A lifetime achievement where he will be recognized as a giant of the game. He’s always been one… its just time for his official commencement. The Chancellor of Football will be boarding a plane in less than 24 hours. I just had to chronicle this before we gather in Canton.

Congratulations Jerry Kramer, you’re a Hall of Famer!

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Postscript

Missing Rings: 2009 Minnesota Vikings

When you think back to the NFL before the free agency era, you rarely had the chance to see players take on their former team. Not with the venom or emotion we have seen post 1993 as players left as salary cap casualties with something to prove. We watched Hall of Famers like Marcus Allen & Thurman Thomas move to divisional rivals knowing they had 2 shots a year to get some payback. Yet over the years this was rarely seen at the QB position.

Favre’s locker at The Pro Football Hall of Fame on display the day of his induction.

The last true time we saw this was when Joe Montana was traded out of San Francisco to make way for Steve Young. They had rebuilt on the run and were still among the league’s elite and no longer needed their young QB looking over his shoulder at a living legend who played the same position. In 1994 they faced off in an epic week 2 battle that captured the nation’s attention. We wouldn’t see a match-up of this magnitude again for another 15 years.

Now of all the long standing rivalries in the NFL there are few with more hatred between two teams like that of the Green Bay Packers and the Minnesota Vikings. Theirs is a clash of lifestyles, cultures, teams, and an envy from Vikings fans and players of the Packer’s globally revered NFL legacy.

Although the Packers have won 13 championships it’s the legacy of Vince Lombardi and their being “Team of the 60’s” that NFL Films and books have elevated these teams & players to mythic status. Minnesota on the other hand is largely remembered for losing 4 of the first 11 Super Bowls with very few of their great players being recognized by  Pro Football Hall of Fame. One example is Paul Krause, the NFL’s All Time Interceptor with 81 passes. It took 20 years for him to make “The Hall” after a 16 year career. Could you imagine any player who retired #1 in any major statistic waiting that long to make the journey to Canton?? I didn’t think so.

Had the Vikings won those 4 Super Bowls they would have been remembered as the “Team of the 70’s.” There are only 5 members from the Vikings enshrined compared to the 12 from the 60’s Packers and that will increase to 13 when Jerry Kramer gets in this year.

From the mid 90’s on it seemed as though the Viking organization was constantly searching for a QB. The Vikings spent the better part of 2 decades with teams good enough to make the playoffs but not “the guy” to get them over the top. They shuffled in an aging Warren Moon, an enigmatic Jeff George, resurrected Jim McMahon, had journeymen like Sean Salisbury, and revived a retired Randall Cunningham.

In ’98 Cunningham was the NFL’s Comeback Player of the Year as he threw for 34 TDs. Super rookie Randy Moss set a record with 17 TDs as the Vikings roared to a 15-1 regular season and set the NFL scoring record with 556 points. They were a meteor and was the best of the Denny Green era however they were upset in the NFC Championship 30-27 and had to watch Super Bowl XXXIII.

Lost in this sea of futility, the Green Bay Packers became the center of the universe with the emergence of Brett Favre and the free agent signing of Reggie White. When they won the ’96 Super Bowl, Favre was in the midst of 3 straight MVP seasons and Viking faithful seethed with envy. The hated Packers had become one of the glamour teams and Favre had become the face of the league.

Peterson sets the NFL single game rushing record at 296 yards vs. Chargers.

This went on for years as the Vikings, with Randy Moss, could make the playoffs yet could only muster 1 more championship appearance. Once there, the lights went out in a 41-0 loss to the Giants in the 2000 NFC Championship. The most explosive player in football and they couldn’t field a champion with him. After his departure lightning struck again when they landed future Hall of Famer in RB Adrian Peterson in the 2007 draft. His rookie year saw him rush for 1,341 yards highlighted by an NFL record 296 yd rushing performance against San Diego. Yikes! His combination of speed and power might have been the most frightening at its zenith in NFL history. If they only could get a quarterback with him they could be lethal…

Elsewhere in the NFC North the Packers had retooled and Favre had become the grand old man trying to get back to the Super Bowl. Gone were the gunslinger days where Brett had to will his team to victory, he was getting by on guile. Timely audibles, leadership and staying controlled within Coach McCarthy’s offense led to a 13-3 record and homefield advantage. Early in the year he eclipsed Dan Marino to become the NFL’s all time touchdown passer, against the Vikings no less. In his 17th season he was the sentimental favorite to win a title in a swan song season that seemed predestined. But alas… the New York Giants upset Green Bay 23-20 in the NFC Championship. Favre had thrown a fatal interception in overtime to Corey Webster…and it was over.

The saga of Brett retiring and unretiring began as the Packers wanted to move on with a young Aaron Rodgers. Having his championship appetite whet he didn’t want to retire. Green Bay didn’t relent and he became a free agent and wound up playing the 2008 season with the New York Jets. He wasn’t inspired and seem to go through the motions and retired again… but when the Vikings came calling… this sent shockwaves through the NFL and a rejuvenated Favre hit the ground running.

Football fans everywhere took sides waiting to see Favre with the hated Vikings take on his old team. Packer fans were outraged he went to Minnesota and felt betrayed. Social media was in its infancy but comments “Judas” and quotes from the Godfather “It was you Fredo!” with pics from the kiss of death scene were everywhere as the buildup for those games began that summer.

To go with All Pro RB Adrian Peterson, the Vikings had developed WR Sidney Rice and drafted wild card and super rookie Percy Harvin off the NCAA champion Florida Gators. Farve had never had this type of firepower in Green Bay and Packer fans were nervous as hell. More important there was a pep in his step as though Favre had stepped back in time 5 years. He returned to being the emotional gunslinger and was on full display in week 3. The Vikings had begun the season 2-0 and were losing at home to San Francisco. They were being accused of looking ahead to the 1st matchup with Green Bay….and then the Vikes got the ball with 1:29 to go needing a touchdown.

The old man swaggered onto the field and brought life to the Viking huddle they hadn’t seen in a decade. A frantic drive saw Favre complete 6 of 8 passes that weren’t spikes and his last pass was a scramble & 32 yard touchdown to Greg Lewis with :02 seconds to go to win 27-24. The Metrodome hadn’t been that loud since the days of Moss and Cris Carter a decade before. Bring on the Packers!!

A raucous crowd awaited a Monday Night audience as the old knight outdueled the young lion in a 30-23 victory. Farve had gone 24 of 31 for 271 yards and 3 TDs where Aaron Rodgers had been sacked 8 times and harassed all night. He threw for 384 yards 2 TDs and an interception and had to play uphill all night. Favre left the field with his arms outstretched amid a sea of reporters. However in week 8 the Vikings would have to take the trek to Lambeau Field. Surely the Packer faithful would be just as loud and unforgiving as the Metrodome crowd had been for Rodgers.

In what might have been the biggest sporting event of the decade the nation tuned in for Favre’s return to Lambeau Field. Had there been pay per view for football games this would have smashed any record any boxing match had ever achieved. All the shows aired specials on the game and all week Fox dotted their television landscape with promos for the Game of the Week. The NFL’s all time winningest QB with the most touchdowns and yardage in NFL history, and the greatest Packer legend was going to be playing in purple and gold?? The mind struggled to take it all in…and when the whistle blew:

When the smoke cleared the Vikings were going into their bye week 7-1 and Favre had definitely had his revenge. In 2 games he completed 41 of 59 for 525 yards 7 TDs and was in complete control where Rodgers threw for 6 TDs, however had 1 interception and was sacked 14 times by the Viking front line. Yes… 14 times!! The Packers only led once in either contest, 3-0 in the 2nd game, and didn’t intercept or sack #4 once in either contest. This was against a Packer defense that finished ranked #2 in 2009. Suddenly the season was at the halfway point and the question had to be asked: Was this the best team in the NFL??

For the season Minnesota finished 2nd against the run & 6th in total defense and led the NFL with 48 sacks. Future Hall of Famer Jared Allen was a menace all year with 14.5 sacks and 5 forced fumbles, 2 recoveries, a safety and a touchdown in a season where he was All Pro and made the Pro Bowl. He would have been Taylor Blitz Times Defensive Player of the Year over the NFL’s choice in Charles Woodson. Why?? In the 2 biggest games of the year Packers vs Vikings, Woodson never intercepted Favre where Allen sacked Aaron Rodgers 7 times which included the safety. This led to Rodgers being the most sacked QB in the NFL in 2009 taken down 50 times. Yes… 7 times. Checkmate!

Allen was joined at the Pro Bowl by fellow defenders CB Antoine Winfield, immovable DT Kevin Williams (also All Pro) and LB Chad Greenway should have been. DE Ray Edwards had a career best 8.5 sacks in ’09 playing across from Jared. MLB E.J Henderson, OLB Ben Leber, DT Pat Williams, and CB Cedric Griffin turned in solid seasons.

Offensively the Vikings finished 5th in the NFL and scored 470 points which ranked 2nd. All World RB Adrian Peterson rushed for 1,383 yds and a career best 18 TDs while collecting 43 rec. for another 436 yards. Wideout Sidney Rice was another contributor with 83 rec. 1,312 yards and 8 TDs…all career highs. Now add in NFL Rookie of the Year in Percy Harvin who contributed with 925 yards from scrimmage 6 TDs while ranking 3rd on kickoffs with a 27.1 yard avg for 1,100 yards and 2 more scores.   This team had weapons!

Do you realize at 40 years of age Favre completed a career high 68.4% of his passes for 4,202 yards 33 TDs and a career low 7 interceptions?? It was the highest season TD total for #4 in 12 years.

After racing out to a 10-1 start, the Norsemen finished 12-4 as the most complete team in football. Well, some were saying the New Orleans Saints were and after the Vikings stomped Dallas 34-3 in the NFC Divisional Playoff, they would meet in the Superdome for the NFC Championship. It was the only time in the 51 year history of the Super Bowl where a QB had taken 2 different teams to the conference championship game in just 3 years.

Favre had grown up just 60 miles from the Superdome and this was the building he had won his Super Bowl title. The script seemed to have been written…

A team that finished 3rd in fewest turnovers allowed w/ 18  during the ’09 regular season turned it over 5 times in New Orleans. The Vikings were able to bring in the catalyst for the best season in 10 years but he couldn’t breathe championship pedigree into players who didn’t have it on the professional level. Well at least for this game.

A 31-28 defeat in overtime to a team they lost the turnover battle to 5-1 on the road. Most teams get blown out yet the Norsemen hung tough and fought to the bitter end. Brett gambled with a bad throw on the Tracy Porter interception when the Vikings were near field goal position to win it in regulation. This became the final on field image of a legendary performer… like it or not. The Saints were off to Super Bowl XLIV where the Vikings had to ponder the what ifs…

The NFL’s best team had to sit and watch the New Orleans win the Lombardi two weeks later and the sports world was left to ponder “what might have been”?  Had the Vikings gone on to win that 1st Super Bowl, Brett Favre would have become the 1st QB to win the NFL Championship with 2 different teams since Norm Van Brocklin in 1960. He did become the 1st QB in the Super Bowl era to lead two different teams to a conference championship appearance in a 3 year period.

favre.bust

Favre Hall of Fame Bust

In the grand scheme of things it had been a magic carpet ride for fans everywhere. Not only for the middle aged men who got behind an aging lion in a young man’s game, but those who cheer the Viking legacy and almost watched the greatest Packer in history win their 1st Super Bowl Championship. A unique chapter in NFL history remembered at Favre’s Pro Football Hall of Fame induction. Both by speech as Chris Berman addressed the audience and the display pictured above. For Packer fans that grumbled at the locker display I just encouraged them to stand in front of the Viking jersey when taking their pics. Yet when you look back at the ’09 Vikings overall it was one of the strongest teams in the last 20 years that fell short of Super Bowl glory.

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